In the midst of violence and despair in Baghdad, at least two institutions are working smoothly, according to September stories in, respectively, The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. Iraq Star, an American Idol-type reality show, attracted 10,000 contestants for 45 slots in filming at the downtown Baghdad Hotel, and will be shown locally and around the Arab world. Other reality shows are in the works. Second, the nearly 3,500 Baghdad traffic officers still command high respect despite the city’s other problems. Said an engineer, “The traffic law is the only thing nowadays that functions correctly.” In fact, the Web site of the Shi’ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani contains a query whether it is permissible, even when a driver has the street all to himself, to violate traffic laws. The ayatollah’s answer is no.
THIS WEEK IN EEL BOWLING
The 30-year-old traditional festival of eel bowling in the fishing village of Lyme Regis, England, was canceled in July after complaints from an animal rights activist that it was disrespectful to eels. In the ritual, teams of anglers stand on platforms and swing a giant (but dead) conger eel, attached to the ceiling, to see who will be the last person standing. Said a spokesman for the charitable event, which raises money for lifeboat crews, “But it’s a dead conger, for Pete’s sake. I shouldn’t think the conger could care one way or another.”
Leon Howard Matter was arrested in Sandusky, Ohio, in August for sending a letter containing “anthrax” (it turned out to be harmless powder) to the local FBI office. He told agents the reason he did it was because he was facing earlier child pornography charges and didn’t want to go to prison for that because he’d get beaten up. Threatening the FBI, he reasoned, has a better cachet.
At the Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court in England in July, Andrew Curzon was charged with wrongfully attempting to cash a neighbor’s pension-adjustment check, in the equivalent of about $220,000. The explanation by Curzon (who is a law student) is that he has “dyspraxia,” which renders him unable “to engage in logical thinking.”
U.S. Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio agreed to plead guilty in September to corruption charges stemming from investigations of the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and even though Ney faces as much as 27 months in prison, he will still be eligible for a congressional pension (based on 12 years’ service) when he gets out. Earlier this year, Congress passed a corruption-reform bill, which Ney enthusiastically supported, which would have caused a congressman in Ney’s position to forfeit his pension, but the bill has been stalled in a House-Senate conference and was not enacted before Ney’s plea was accepted.
FETISHES ON PARADE
In an August rafting tournament on the Vuoksa River near St. Petersburg, Russia, which used only inflatable dolls of the kind typically sold in adult boutiques, Igor Osipov, 40, was disqualified upon finishing the race when (according to a report by Moscow News) observers “saw signs of recent sexual activity on [Osipov]’s doll.” MTW